It’s sad, but it happens. Sometimes you grow estranged from an heir.

Other times, an heir surpasses you financially so they won’t benefit as much from an inheritance as the family artist who is still paying off his sociology degree.

Whatever your hilarious or tragic reason might be, it’s legally quite easy to amputate an heir. It’s emotional torture that will haunt you for the rest of your life and shatter your family, but legally it’s a piece of cake.

Unless you specifically state otherwise, the state is going to assume that you intended your spouse, and then your children to be your heirs unless you state otherwise. You know, because they assume you love your family. If you think about it, that is the appropriate default setting.

So, if you want to cut an heir out of an inheritance you’ve got to really mean it.

It is important to complete an entire list of your children in the estate plan and to specify any child who will not be an heir. This will make for a wonderful and dramatic moment suitable for a movie:

The estranged youngest son shows up on the day of his father’s son. After comforting his mother and arguing with his brother, his father’s will is read aloud in father’s study.

(Authoritative Voice, as if you were the father, reading his own will from beyond the grave)

“…and to my youngest son Samuel, I leave nothing.”

The son lowers his head. His sister tries to comfort him. He dashes from the room. It’s the sweetest revenge of all; revenge from beyond the grave!

I know this is a tragic situation, really. If you want to leave something for a lost or wayward child, you can always attach a few strings to an inheritance. In this way, you take a family tragedy and turn it into a hilarious, heart-warming comedy. Think Brewster’s Millions. Everyone learns something and a father and son are reconciled after death.

You cannot just attach any stipulation to an inheritance. You cannot ask an heir to commit a crime. You cannot subject them to anything torturous. You’ll have to double up on the emotional torture while you’re still alive if
you want to haunt them forever.

You cannot ask an heir to divorce their partner. This one comes up all the time. Most of us tolerate our children, but you may not relish the prospect of sharing your money with your money-grubbing in-laws. Nonetheless, most courts view such a request as a violation of public policy because it promotes divorce.

You should talk to a lawyer about what kinds of stipulations you can place on an inheritance. You might demand that your heirs do something with their lives, from maintaining stable employment to educating themselves, before they can access what you leave behind. This will teach them to fish for themselves before you give them all of your catch.

This has been Money Matters.

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